If you’re increasing engine output, suspension performance, and braking power, you need a steering system that keeps up with vastly improved vehicle performance. While a rack-and-pinion steering system provides a giant leap in steering precision, it is also a very expensive upgrade. On the other hand, replacing a worn, stock steering box with a new quick-ratio steering box is much more affordable and delivers far better steering response.
Inspect Stock Steering Box
1. On this Chevelle, we’re replacing a manual steering box and worn steering components to create a true performance system for the street, autocrossing, and road racetracks. The steps are very similar for all model years , although the components may look a little different. In these photos, the engine has been removed, but that is not required for the upgrades shown.
Remove Cotter Pins
2.Remove the old components. For safety, every nut in the system has a cotter pin. Remove all of these using needle nose pliers and side cutters where needed. Loosen, but do not remove, the nuts on all of the attaching ball joints. Leave the idler arm, steering box, and Pitman arm tightly bolted in place for now.
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3. Ball joints ensure that there is no slop in the steering system when things are bolted up tight. To release the pressure on the taper, hit the side of the mount with a metal hammer. A ball peen hammer suffices. A couple good knocks should do the job. This momentarily distorts the shape of the hole and eventually the ball-joint stud drops down in the mount.
Remove Idler Arm and Steering Box
4. With the tie rod ends and center removed using this technique, you can now unbolt the idler arm and steering box from the frame rails. The front steering box bolt hole may be covered by the bumper bracket. Use a 9/16-inch socket with a 6-inch extension to unbolt the steering box.
Inspect Flaming River Steering Box
5. Installing a new Flaming River Industries 14:1 steering box on this Chevelle gives great balance between fast steering and high-speed stability. These new boxes have four mounting holes, but only three are used to install the box on a Chevelle using the original holes in the frame.
Bolt Steering Box to Frame
6. Tubes welded inside the frame rail keep it from collapsing as you tighten the steering box bolts. Use a socket and ratchet to torque all 3/8–inch bolts to the frame. Use the original bolts, or purchase replacement bolts from a restoration parts supply if yours are rusty.
Torque Steering Box Bolts
7. Torque the bolts to 70 ft-lbs, and check the fasteners periodically. For race-car-like security, you can purchase bolts with drilled heads and safety-wire them in place so that they cannot back off.
Inspect Pitman Arm for Cracks
8. Manual and power steering boxes use different Pitman arms. These are keyed (one spline is wider than the others) and are shaped for specific vehicles; grabbing one off a Camaro or truck isn’t going to work for your Chevelle. If you’re not changing from a manual box to a power box, inspect your original Pitman arm for cracks. If you need a new one, they are available from Classic Performance Parts (CPP).
Inspect Replacement Aftermarket Steering Linkage
9. You can use a kit from Classic Performance Products (CPP) or Performance Suspension Technology (PST) to replace the center link, idler arm, and tie rod ends. These are all OEM-quality or better components. They come with new grease fittings (which you should install before putting the components on your car), fasteners, and cotter pins.
Install Solid Tie Rod Sleeve
10. About the only performance upgrade available using stock replacement components, is a solid tie rod sleeve. The factory part (bottom) is a metal sleeve with clamps. They work, but they don’t inspire confidence, look cool, or make adjustments easy. Aftermarket solid adjusting sleeves use locknuts on either end and have flat sides on the sleeves to easily fit a wrench over them.
Written by Cole Quinnell and posted with permission of CarTech Books
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